Monday, January 20, 2014

The Clearing by Jake Jeppson at Theatre at St. Clements

Brian McManamon and Allison Daugherty in THE CLEARING.  Photo by Gertjan Houben.
Chris Ellis (Brian P. Murphy) is a volatile straight young man in his late 20s, totally devoted to his younger gay brother, Les (Brian McManamon).  Although a year or two younger than Chris, Les is the more stable and mature of the two, and he is equally devoted to Chris.  Moreover, both brothers are loving and concerned for their mother, Ella (Allison Daugherty), who has been distraught for years following her husband’s abandonment of the family and who has devoted herself entirely to her sons’ well-being ever since.  Les, meanwhile, has acquired a somewhat mysterious new boyfriend, Peter Reisner, an attractive young photographer, who is also in his late 20s.

The brothers spend much of their time in a clearing at the top of a gorge but that only partially explains the title of the play, The Clearing, by Jake Jeppson, currently enjoying its world premiere at Theatre at St. Clement’s on West 46th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The play’s title also, and maybe even more importantly, refers to the clearing away of old memories, secrets, and relationships.

The play consists of two acts with no intermission.  The chronology of the play runs backwards in the first act (for no discernibly good reason) and this is the less effective of the two acts. But the second act reverses course, picks up steam, and moves forward with growing momentum until the play’s mysteries are totally revealed.

We quickly learn that the brothers have shared some dark secret for 18 years but it’s not until late in the play that we learn just what it is.  It does seem to have something to do with someone named “Daniel,” but whether Daniel is a real person or simply a figment of Chris’ imagination is not immediately evident.  Indeed, while we realize early on that Chris is emotionally immature, it’s not really clear whether he might not also be delusional or schizophrenic.

Messrs McMananon, Murphy and Gallerno are all effective in their respective roles but I would reserve the greatest praise for Ms Daugherty who, called upon to perform a nude scene with sensitivity and restraint, really pulls it off.  Nor was Ms Daugherty’s scene gratuitously inserted to capitalize on the considerable attractiveness of her body; rather, it was meant to provide a beautiful depiction of the tensions inherent in risk-taking, change, and self-revelation and in that it succeeds admirably. 

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